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Why do I need a will and what happens if I don’t have one?

This information has been prepared by Sykes Anderson Perry Limited as a general guide only and does not constitute advice on any specific matter. We strongly recommend that you seek professional advice before taking action. No liability can be accepted by us for any action taken or not taken as a result of any information or advice given or omitted.

It’s helpful to think of your will as a set of instructions that will take effect when you pass away. It is a legally binding document which tells everyone what should happen to your property and possessions when you are no longer here. All these things together are referred to as your ‘estate’. If you don’t leave a will, the law at the date of your death will decide how your estate is distributed and passed on. You should bear in mind that this may not be in line with your wishes.

A will makes is much simpler for your family or friends to organise everything on your behalf when you pass away. If no will is in place, this important and necessary process may become more time-consuming and stressful.

If you pass away not having written a will, your estate will be shared out in a way that is defined by law. This is not an ideal situation – it is unlikely that these arbitrary rules will properly honour and respect your true intentions. Beloved family members, friends, and charitable organisation may miss out. As only one-third of people leave a will behind them, this is, unfortunately, a common occurrence.

The law which controls how your estate is passed on when you don’t leave a will is called the ‘rules of intestacy’. In a very rigid order, they will set out when happens. This is the order of who will benefit:

  1. Spouse (husband/wife) or civil partner
  2. Children/grandchildren
  3. Parents
  4. Brothers and sisters
  5. Grandparents
  6. Uncles and aunts

Half-siblings are treated differently from full siblings. If your estate is passed on under the rules of intestacy, your half-siblings will be excluded completely from receiving a share of your estate, while your full siblings will receive a share. The same principle applies to half-uncles and aunts.

It is important to realise that the rules of intestacy exclude the following people you would wish to see part of your estate pass to:

  1. Cohabitants or unmarried partners
  2. Common law spouses
  3. Ex-spouses or civil partners
  4. Step-parents or stepchildren
  5. Close friends

Another important reason for leaving a will is that it is an effective way (but not the only way) to make clear your intentions of who should care of your minor children if you were to pass away. If a will is not in place at the date of your death and in the absence of any other guardianship provisions, the court will have to decide who will look after your children amongst your family members or a state-appointed guardian. Your will is an important document and should be stored securely, i.e. at the law firm that made your will or at your bank. This makes it an ideal record of your intentions should you pass away before your children reach the age of majority.

February 2019